Walking the streets of Lille... I might not have been the only street walker in Lille when I was there, though.
27.03.2009 - 30.03.2009 13 °C
Lille is a city in northern France, and is the principle city of the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the France behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Conveniently for those of us who live 10 minutes from St. Pancras station in London, Lille is also only 1 hour and 27 minutes minutes away from London, making it closer than Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Sheffield. Actually, I could almost make it to Lille in less time than it would take me to get to Heathrow airport.
Lille is very close to the border with Belgium, and due to its closeness to many cities in Belgium, is part of the eurodistrict of Lille-Kortrijk, which also includes the French cities of Roubaix, Tourcoing and the Belgian cities of Kortrijk, Tournai, Mouscron and Ypres.
I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras to Lille, and after arriving at my hotel in the mid-afternoon, headed out to see the town. I was staying in Vieux Lille (Old Lille), with lots of cobblestone streets and narrow, twisty streets.
While the street grid is medieval, most of the buildings date back to the early 1900s, rebuilt after the area was destroyed during the First World War.
As I was wondering around, I kept noticing all these women milling about in the street near my hotel in France. As it was just around 4 in the afternoon, I figured that perhaps they were waiting around for a drive from a boyfriend or a friend.
After wandering around for about an hour, I came back towards my hotel and noticed that the same girls were still milling around the hotel.
"Hmmm, seems strange that their boyfriend hasn't picked them up yet." The narrow streets meant that often cars seemed to be jammed up, perhaps there boyfriends were just late to pick them up.
No worries, I decided to keep wandering around.
Notre Dame de la Treille, the seat of the Catholic church in Lille was started in 1854. If you look at the picture and think to yourself it looks pretty modern for 1854, that's because the church wasn't finished until 1999, thus the modern looking front facade. The back of the church is much more traditional gothic looking.
After a wander around, I decided to pop into a bar and have a drink. There was a few nice bars on Place Notre Dame de la Treille, so I decided to pop into the Aux Arts at the corner of the Place and Rue d'Angleterre.
Being so close to Belgium, beer is king here in Lille instead of wine as in other places in France.
Despite beer being readily available, it is very pricey though. My first beer was €3.90. €3.90 for a beer??? That's almost £3.70... and it's only 25 cl! We get full pints in Blighty, thank you very much!
My wallet much lighter, I headed back towards my hotel, taking a round-about route through the centre of town.
I headed back to my hotel, and those same girls were still there waiting around for a ride. Wait a second, perhaps these women aren't waiting for a ride at all... or at least, not a ride from their friends. I think I might in staying in the red light district of Lille. Nah, not possible. I'm in the tourist laden old town, this isn't where the working girls would be!
I went up to my room, and after a quick shower and a quick surf of the internet, headed out for dinner. All the women that were milling around previously are all gone. I had a nice dinner of Sushi for dinner. It was weird having Sushi and Yakitori and listening to the Asian chef and waiter talk to each other in French. After dinner, I returned to my hotel, noticed that none of the girls were still around.
"See, they must have finally gotten picked up by their boyfriends," I said to no one, and carried on my way.
First night of vacation, I wanted to get out and have a good time on the town. But at €3.90 a beer, I gotta do something better than that. Luckily, Lille is a university town, of course there was a few places to drink for cheap. I head down Rue Massena , I find what is a universal truth - where students drink, cheap drinks are to be found. Pints (actual pints in the Irish pub, 50 cl is other places) for €4, with a discount to €3.50 at happy hour!
After a few pints, I head back to my hotel. It has rained, and the cobblestones of the old town are glistening in the street lights. Perhaps it's the pints of beer, but it is beautiful.
= = =
The next day, after a drive about that I will talk about in a few future blog entries, I returned to my hotel in the afternoon and was offered sex by a nice blonde woman who appeared to be waiting for a ride at the corner of the street.
"I know you must be bored, waiting for your ride, but I don't think that is a safe and appropriate way to pass the time," I said, though I am not sure she understood me, what with her speaking French and all. Either way, a car came along soon after and picked her up, so it looked like her boyfriend was just a few minutes late.
After a quick freshen up in the hotel, I headed to the north-west of the centre of the town to see the Citadel.
The Citadel of Lille is a pentagon-shaped citadel that was part of the city wall of Lille. It was built in 1668, part of a massive fortification by the Marquis de Vauban, who fortified 28 cities in France for Louis XIV to keep out the Spanish. The citadel in Lille was dubbed "Queen of the citadels" (Reine des citadelles) by Vauban, and it is one of the most notable citadels designed by Vauban. The citadel was part of a double line of fortified towns of Gravelines, Dunkirk and Maubeuge-Rocroi, called the pré carré ("square field").
Obviously, the Spanish aren't so much of a threat anymore, so the outer wall of the citadel has been allowed to fall apart.
The inner wall, however, is still well maintained. Today the citadel is home to the the Corps de réaction rapide France, which is a joint organization of the French Army and NATO.
The citadel is surrounded by a large area of parklands and forests, and heading back through the Champs Mars I saw that the circus was in town.
They call it la cirque in French
= = =
The next night I went out again for seafood. Despite all the brouhaha that the French make about being food experts, they don't even have their own words for escargot, souffle, or au jus! Seriously, and they call themselves cooks.
Coming home, I noticed a few more women hanging around on the street waiting for rides. "Geez girls, it is almost 11:30! Your boyfriends are running very late," I said, but I don't think they understood me, what with me speaking English and them speaking French and all. I mean, they had some pretty confused looks on their faces, so I decided to try a little trivia on them.
"Did you know that the French don't even have a word for à la carte or à la mode?" I said. "It's a good thing we English came along and invented these words for you, otherwise you would never be able to get apple pie with ice cream!"
I thought it was a good piece of trivia, but the girls didn't seem pleased with it. Probably upset at their boyfriends for not picking them up yet.
= = =
My final day in town, and more wandering around Lille.
Charles De Gaulle, who I think may have something to do with airplanes and airports due to the airport in Paris being named after him, was born here in Lille. Apparently, beyond just running airports, he was also President of France for a time back in the 60s. It is true, because I checked it out. I read a google about it while I was reading my imail and listening to my epod.
Just after leaving CDG's birth place, I was propositioned by a woman. It was 10 in the morning.
"Off work already? Must be nice to have a boyfriend that he's able to take a few hours off work to pick you up."
"stupide imbécile Anglais!"
Must mean thank you...
= = =
Lille is an important stop on the TGV and Eurostar network, making a convenient transfer point between France, Belgium and English.
The station is topped by a big L shaped building.
The station sits on Place Mitterrand, named after the former president who opened the station after the chunnel was completed.
Not far away is Euralille, which is a big shopping mall.
It is INCREDIBLY pink, but it does have pirates!
Heading out from Euralille is Gare du Lille Flandres and Place De La Gare, the train station handling regional trains and the square out front.
You may wonder what the deal with the giant babies with the wings is. You would not be alone. I think it has something to do with Europe XXL, which I think is an art exhibit taking place across multiple countries and cities, including Lille. Either that, or giant mutant babies were rampaging through Lille, and were only stopped when exposed to the light from the Orb of Arkzon, which turned their alabaster skin into hard as granite ebony. Hard to say which is the truth, really.
Heading off from the train station along the streets of Lille felt very much to me like being in Paris. This typical scene of Hotels and Restaurants on Rue de Tournai reminded me of many of the wide boulevards in Paris that Haussmann created. I wondered if Lille copied Paris back in the mid-1800s and created the wide boulevards, or if they built them after the demolition of most of the city during World War I.
St. Maurice Church is just a few blocks from the train station, and the square out front was busy with shoppers taking a quick break, or office workers grabbing a late lunch.
It has some nice detail on the church, one of those places you could stare at for hours, and still find new things to see.
Leading from St. Maurice is a pedestrian shopping area, anchored by Rue Des Tanneurs, named, I guess, after tanners. It was all shut up when I was there. Not sure if it was an early victim of the credit crunch, or they don't open on Mondays, or everyone had just wandered off to lunch. Probably the last one.
In the Place de la République, I found a few statues, water features and the acclaimed Museum of Fine Arts.
The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille houses the second largest collection of fine art in France, with only that show-off the Louvre besting it. In fact, I read some piece of tourist propaganda that claimed that because of the the Louvre is art works on loan, that Lille's museum is actually the largest PERMANENT collection of art in France.
Either way, both the Louvre and the Palais des Beaux-Arts have something in common, in that I didn't go into either of them. Luckily, the Palais in Lille is one of those places that people say "Even the building is a work of art," so at least I can say I saw something.
Just down from the Museum is the Old Paris Gate at Place Simon Vollant. This Arch was built on the city walls from 1685 to 1692, to celebrate Louis XIV's conquest of Lille in 1667, and opened on to the road to Paris (thus the name). At the top, Victory, sitting amongst trophies of arms and flags, places a crown of laurels on the head of Louis XIV, which is carved in a medallion. On the right, in a niche, Hercules, with his club, symbolises strength. To the left is Mars, the god of war.
Today, it sits in the middle of a round-about. But it still is pretty. And you can see Lille's impressive town hall quite clearly from the centre of the roundabout. Built in the 1920s, the town hall is quite impressive. The clock tower was the first building in Paris to be over 100 metres in height, and today is a World Heritage Site.
Saint-Sauveur Church was designed by architect François-Joseph Delemer , and built between 1896 and 1902. It is a mix of the "eclectic style and neo-byzantine," according to something I just googled. Never doubt the internets.
Down the street is the Noble Tower. Erected during the 100 years war, it was one of 65 towers protecting the city of Lille. It didn't work, and when the city fell, it was turned into an ammunitions depot. In 1975 it was made the Memorial of the Resistance and the Deported, in honour of those who were part of the resistance during WWII.
And with that, I return to Gare Lille Euorpe, and get ready to head back to Londres.
The train station is modern glory inside, but once you get into the secure area for the Eurostar, it's all airport-waiting room chic in the lounge, and dank basement - early dungeon in the track area.
Eventually, the train comes and rescues me from the dark, cold and unpleasantly moist rail platform, and we fly 'cross the French countryside getting ready to dip into a tunnel and under the English channel.
1:27 minutes later, I was back in the land of pints and fish and chips. Amazing world we live in, no?
I am not quite done with Lille and the area yet. Much like Marley warning Scrooge about the 3 ghosts to come, I warn you for three blog entries to come. I rented a car while in France, and thus saw a little bit of northern France and Belgium's countrysides, and I also visited a few sites related to WWI. So over the next few days, be prepared for 1 stupid entry on my driving in France and Belgium, and 2 serious entries about the battlefields, monuments and cemeteries of World War I.